Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Natsu no Arashi: Quantum Physics for Amateurs

It looks nothing like this.
Natsu no Arashi (Summer Storm) first came to my attention while I was reading a copy of School Rumble. This little leaflet fell out, one of those small rectangular spreadable sheets of shiny, thin, brightly (Or darkly, depending on the material it covers) colored paper that just inexplicably make for minutes of delightful, albeit brief, reading.
Natsu is Kobayashi Jin’s second big success (In that it was given the green light to be printed in the tankoubon (volume) format following its serialization (or during. Whatever), his first being the aforementioned School Rumble. It’s a difficult thing to do, living up to expectations- Rumble being a major hit. Will the second work be as good as the first, or will it surpass it? Or will it bomb? It’s a highly subjective question that can’t (And shouldn’t) be judged on sales alone.

For better or worse, readers will be using Rumble as a benchmark, based on their own personal views on the first title. It’s like how people say that Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin is epic (It is) and all his later works fall short (No comment). So there, fans of Rumble: Just try and watch Natsu in isolation, without comparing it to its predecessor. It’s hard, but just try.

That said, knowing absolutely nothing about Natsu, I thought I’d be treated to something along the lines of Rumble, which was basically an insane romantic comedy in a school setting (Ah, the joys of compulsory education). I couldn’t have been more wrong. There is an element of romance, but romance isn’t the focal point of Natsu. Instead, Natsu focuses more on ‘making things right’. I know it sounds strange, but that’s how it seemed to me. “What’s that supposed to mean? Give me a generic one-word theme”, is what you’re probably thinking. Comprehension will lodge itself in your head in a few paragraphs, so just read on.

The first episode introduces us to all the important characters without seeming like they’re being placed on parade. Quite surprising, really, since normally new characters are saved for grand entrances in later episodes… but ah, although this is the first episode, it isn’t either. Nor is it a flashback. How is this possible? Two words: Time travel. Time travel is central to Natsu, and is used for everything from serious drama to discussions on quantum physics to frivolous foolishness, the latter being what you get in the first episode. I don’t know if I can stand 13 episodes of time travel being used as joke material, I thought, but persevere I did, and I’m glad I did.

Natsu is about the Yasaka Hajime’s 13th summer, spent at his grandfather’s place, the summer that, as the series tagline goes, is ‘unforgettable’. That summer, Hajime crossed paths with a girl by the name of Arashi, who is really a ghost who died in Showa 20 (um, 1945?). Physical contact between the two ‘unlocks’ Arashi’s ability to time travel, a power they use to go back in the past and save lives. “But it’s wrong to change history! You’ll mess everything up!” you say. Don’t think that our time-travelers don’t worry themselves about that. One person saved could mean the death of another. In the end, though, thanks to their actions, everything ends up just right. And that’s that. Einstein would probably scream ‘bloody murder’, but that’s alright.

On to more technical details. You can’t help but notice that the animation is simply gorgeous, in fact, it bears a great resemblance to the animation style of another series, the infamous Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. I didn’t really mind it, but I was worried about it becoming a trend- I’d just watched a few episodes of the splendidly psychotic Bakemonogatari, which featured the same style. I mean, it’s lovely, of course, but for it to be used in every other anime…I’m not too big a fan of mimicry. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that all three series are produced by the same studio (Shaft). Silly me.

Now for the characters. I just have to say this: Yasaka Hajime, viewed from afar, looks like Detective Conan. Close up, he’s just another irritating seventh grader with a crush on an older girl. With an ugly nose. More often than not I just felt like punching him. It’s an interesting coincidence that he does get his ass whipped every time I myself felt like doing so, and almost always by the same character too.

As for Arashi, she remains something of an enigma, despite everything we’re told about her, despite everything we go through with her. I just had this feeling that there’s so much more to her that we’re not privy to- on the surface, she’s best described as a 50/50 mix of the better parts of the Tsukamoto sisters from Rumble- intelligent, pretty, elegant, innocently fun. Come to think of it, it’s more like 70/30 in favor of the younger sister…

It’s odd that my favorite character isn’t one of the main protagonists. Kamigamo Jun, another 13 year old, who has a tasteless secret thrust upon him as a result of unavoidable events and Hajime’s stupidity. He apparently seems to suffer from a case of gymnophobia. You’ll probably have guessed it by now, and yes, it’s Jun who provides the translation of my own desire to vaporize Hajime into (virtual) reality.

I think I’ll stop here. Congratulations, Kobayashi-sensei: Natsu is a strong work capable of standing on its own without help from your reputation. Better yet, it is completely independent of Rumble, being a totally different work. A word of warning to Shaft: Look, the Zetsubou animation style is nice, but if you’re gonna use it for everything else…let’s put it this way: It’s not impossible to die from an overdose of Vitamin C tablets. At least, I think so.

P.S. Remember what I said earlier? “Just try and watch Natsu in isolation, without comparing it to its predecessor. It’s hard, but just try.” They sure made it hard for us, what with all the Rumble cameos (don’t look at the pictures if you want to find them by yourself). They were fun to spot (despite being blatantly obvious), though. So without further ado, say hello once more to our old friends:
Dr. Harima: Did you make the switch?
Assistant Tenma: Uhuh, without a hitch!
Kanako: Hmm? This milk wasn't here before. It looks strange too...
Yayoi: According to this Chemistry textbook by Kobayashi Jin, this is the legendary Tenma milk that will -bleep-!

Hajime (wearing straw hat): We have in our hands a national treasure!
Everyone together: -in awe- Ooooh!

Hey, I recognize those hairstyles...
Kaya (white-haired girl): Ahh, what delightfully cute hairstyles! It’s all thanks to that milk!

Hajime: Worry not everyone, I have devised a cure! (There’s no way I’d let Arashi-san look like some silly klutz on a carton of spoiled milk for the rest of her life!)

Hideo (Muscle-man): I swear I’ll dig up whoever is responsible for messing with our hair...
Dr. Harima: Don’t make eye contact...

Sayaka: ...hmm? What's this? (Well met, Dr. Harima. Well met)
Final (perhaps) unrelated note: I wonder why Japanese animators seem to enjoy using the name Harima for scientifically related places/companies. In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, there is Harima Science Garden City, where everyone's favourite Tachikomas (their AI, at least) were invented; while in Eden of the East (review), there is the ATO Harima company, a massive corporation that deals in... um, various scientific stuff. I realise that I've only provided two examples. It's a matter of perspective- two is a bigger number than zero will ever be, after all. In any case, I've just provided the third- welcome to the fold, Dr. Harima. That's three for you.


  1. Youve forgot to post the onsen cameous from the second season :P

    I started to watch the series because its by Kobayashi Jin and was in the beginning a bit turned off by the character designs which are quite different from SR especially the eyes and face come to mind.All the doubt was gone after the first episode though.

    I really like the subtle focus on WWII thats always apperant through the first season of the series.The second season focuses more on the comedic slapstick part of the series which isnt a bad thing per se but I really liked that part about the first season.

    Im amazed that you dislike SHAFTs distinctive style since I feel that it really fits the overall feel of the series.But if you didnt like it before I can understand that youre not so happy about seeing it again ^_^

    and to end off this comment:


  2. @Blowfish: Ahh, but I've only watched one episode from season 2 so far. Shhsh, no spoilers! lol.
    Same reason for watching here. Episode 1 was weird, but it got better after that. Hmm, season 2 cuts out the serious historical aspect? That's kinda sad. Ah well, I don't mind seeing more of Jun-chan though:D

    Oh, I didn't say that I dislike Shaft's style (at least I don't think I did)... I just feel that it's a little dangerous if they're gonna use the same style for all their shows. First Zetsubou, then Bakemonogatari (both excellent shows), and then Natsu... I don't want to get bored of it, haha. I'm also a little worried that they might get somewhat artistically lazy, not bothering to develop new styles for each individual show. But yeah, the style did fit the story quite well:)

    Hahaha, shio kudasai? Shio? Classic!

  3. It's by the School Rumble guy?
    I've had this on my HDD for months, trying to decide whether or not to watch it. I guess that's a sign I should just delete it and move on. :)

  4. @A20-man: So essentially, you could've condensed this into a simple mathematical equation: "Rumble" + "Zetsubou" = "Natsu no Arashi". And I still would've just-as-simply added another 4-star (if short season) or 5-star (if full season) series to my infinite "To-Watch List"... Ah, re-reading again, I see that it's a short season with sexy physics. Gahhh, too much Kris-like spoiler information. Oh well, I should've just skimmed once.

  5. @Kris: Ahaha- I'd nearly forgotten that you couldn't stand School Rumble. Can't remember your reasons though. Was it the bit about the main plot that never seemed to go anywhere? 'Arashi' is the same, to a certain extent... it goes somewhere, but nowhere at all. Looks like there's no changing your mind, eh? ;)

    @Jay: Hehe, that wouldn't make for much of a review, would it? Yup, it's short- about 12, or was it 13- episodes. Sexy physics. Hmm. I wonder if you're talking about the science or the girls... oh wait, that's physique, lol. Oops. I suppose some bits here and there do amount to spoilers, haha. Gotta have some to convince others to watch/not watch it, though in your case it seems that none are necessary, haha. :D

  6. Jay-san thinks that any mention of any story elements constitutes as a spoiler. :) To avoid spoilers, you'd have to say "It's a show, by the School Rumble guy, about some kids on vacation somewhere." And even telling him they're on vacation might be a bit too much!
    Haha, now I'm teasing him.

    Anyway, yeah, I probably won't change my mind. In fact, I think I'll be off to delete it right now. There are just other shows that I know I will enjoy (like Pandora Hearts and Hayate no Gotoku) that are still sitting on my HDD that I need to get to.

  7. @Kris: Haha, maybe next time I'll type out one para especially for him along those lines. Or I could perhaps type out a separate review saying nothing about the show but instead hypothesize about the kids' non-existent parents, read too much into their favourite food, criticize their sense of fashion... hmm. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty feasible...

    Haha, now I'm doing it too. I'm sowwiee Jay, haha~ orz

  8. @A20-man & @Kris-chan: Ahh, well, by "sexy physics", I simply refer to the science most often thrown into fiction, e.g. space travel, time travel, quantum mechanics, even artificial intelligence and genetic cloning. I doubt that the science of thermodynamics would be sexy enough to grab our attention. Although the 3rd law, "entropy", might be intriguing... As for spoilers, Kris-chan is on the right track. Ideally, I won't accept anything more than a 1-to-5 star rating, biased or not. But alas, it's an "un-ideal" world. Oh well.

  9. @Jay: -attempting to dig up everything I learned about Physics during high school- not much help. Wiki'd "entropy" and came away confused, haha. I get thermodynamics, though, and I can already imagine those twisted animation studios coming up with some nonsensical yet delightful alternate-application-nonsense:D

    Haha, I'll consider using more pictures in future posts to keep you entertained, then;)

  10. I came back for this since I'm looking over quantum now. It's . . . not very quantum-like. ;_;

    Though, I guess Everett's Many Worlds model could help resolve the issues of time travel. Progress!

  11. @Mori: Haha, my apologies. I'm one of the many amateurs who just append 'quantum physics' to anything related to theories concerning alternate realities and time travel:p

    Everett's model, eh? Had to Google it. I guess a simplistic example would be that of Cable killing Apocalypse (In the X-Men series), but not changing anything as all it did was create another time-line... or that however you meddle with time, it doesn't matter because it's already happened... Progress indeed:D